On Being 'Pro-Israel.' (Bill Clinton Appointees) (Editorial)

By Wall, James M. | The Christian Century, January 20, 1993 | Go to article overview

On Being 'Pro-Israel.' (Bill Clinton Appointees) (Editorial)


Wall, James M., The Christian Century


Bill Clinton's promise to form a government that would "look like America" has resulted in the appointment of an unprecedented number of women, blacks and Hispanics to cabinet posts. But there is more to politics than gender, race and ethnicity. There is also perspective, which is why, for example, a liberal white male is likely to be politically more appealing to mainstream female voters than a conservative woman like Phyllis Schlafly.

Perspective is the issue for some members of the American Jewish community. According to an article in the New York Times by Thomas Friedman (January 4), some Jewish leaders have complained that "Clinton has appointed officials associated with female, black and Hispanic causes ... but not prominent members of the Jewish establishment." Clinton has selected two Jews for top positions: Robert B. Reich as secretary of labor and Zoe Baird as attorney general. But according to the Jewish leaders Friedman contacted, neither "has been identified with pro-Israel causes." Reich and Baird do not, in the eyes of these critics, represent Israel's cause in the way that Commerce Secretary-designate Ron Brown represents blacks or Housing Secretary-designate Henry Cisneros represents Hispanics.

Indeed, Reich and Baird have focused their attention on their respective professions--economy and the law. Their views on Israel are not well known since that is not an issue that has shaped their public activities. In this respect, they are actually quite like Brown and Cisneros, neither of whom is identified with their ethnic communities in the way that, say, Jesse Jackson or Cesar Chavez is.

Jewish representation as defined by the pro-Israel "establishment" means absolute loyalty not just to the state of Israel and its people but to the Israeli government in power, which until recent elections was the hardline Likud coalition. To underscore the point that Clinton is obligated to Jewish supporters, Friedman pointed out that "Jews donated about 60 percent of Mr. Clinton's noninstitutional campaign funds, and about 80 percent of Jewish voters cast their ballots for the Democrat." By lumping these Jewish supporters and voters in the camp of the Jewish "establishment," Friedman's article served as a political shot across the bow of the Clinton transition team--a warning that pro-Israel hardliners feel they should have a major share of power in the new administration. The nature of the warning also implied that the liberal, peace-oriented Jewish community is not a part of the Jewish "establishment."

The strategy seems to have had some effect. One day after the Times article appeared, Secretary of State-designate Warren Christopher met with representatives of several major Jewish organizations to "defuse tensions between Jewish groups and the new Clinton Administration"--a phrase that usually indicates that complaints have struck a nerve. What the report of that meeting does not say, however, is that the heads of these "major" organizations--Lester Pollack, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Monte Friedkin, vice-president of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading pro-Israel lobby; and Elizabeth Schrayer, AIPAC's political director--are all militantly pro-Israel.

Missing from that meeting were any representatives from the American Jewish "peace camp," which includes Americans for Peace Now (APN), an organization that played a significant role in drafting the plank on Israel in the Democratic Party platform. Marla Brettschneider, writing in the Jewish liberal publication Israel Horizons, maintains that while recent Democratic party platforms have reflected hardline AIPAC positions, the 1992 platform represented "a significant victory for pro-Israel doves" ("Behind Clinton's Middle East Platform: A Progressive Shift in American Jewry," fall/winter issue).

AIPAC was still a dominant force at the Democratic convention, and the platform included the usual references to the special relationship" between Israel and the U. …

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